When the Rams drafted Austin with the 8th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, they had visions of him blowing by opposing defenses. In his first two seasons, that rarely proved to be the case. Those who cover the Rams and their fans started to whisper the word “bust” when speaking of Austin.
Through seven games this season, those whispers are fading.
There are various reasons having to do with Austin’s productivity, or lack thereof for a former top 10 pick, written about by us. Some had to do with Austin himself, others had to do with how the Rams used him.
During this past offseason, the Rams former OC, Brian Schottenheimer, departed for Georgia, seemingly in a very lopsided trade for rookie sensation RB Todd Gurley (we’ll have more on the duo of Gurley and Austin this week). The team hired Frank Cignetti Jr. to run the offense. One of the key reasons for his hire was that he would find better ways to get Austin involved.
On Sunday, the Rams met the all-around challenged 49ers. Austin again led the Rams in receiving yards with 98 and also had 21 yards rushing. He scored twice, both on the ground and through the air, giving him a total of seven touchdowns this season to lead the team in scoring (he scored a total of nine in his first two seasons). He was targeted seven times by QB Nick Foles, more than twice the amount of any other two Rams’ receivers combined in the game.
In previous seasons, the Rams would try to get Austin involved on the first series or two when the plays were scripted. By the middle of the second quarter and beyond, Austin would disappear. He’d be a forgotten man on offense. This season, the team is making much more of an effort to get the speedster from WVU more involved throughout the game.
After their win over the 49ers, Austin leads the team in receiving yards (285) and is second on the team in rushing (141). He has accounted for 21 first downs, only one behind Gurley. The team has succeeded in getting him the ball in space where he can juke and jive his way past defenders. He has 137 yards after the catch. Coming into Week 8, Austin led the NFL in average yards per punt return at 14.8 (Adam Pacman Jones ranked fourth).
Now at 4-3, the Rams are squarely in the playoff hunt now that their prize pick from 2013 is paying dividends.